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Psychology and Climate Change: Collective Solutions to a Global Problem

Joint British Academy / British Psychological Society Lecture, delivered by Professor David Uzzell, on 23 September 2010 (venue: The Royal Society).

Download presentation slides (pdf, 3.3MB)

A year ago, it was possible to claim that climate change is no longer a contested issue: what is contested is what we can do about it. The limited success of COP15 (Copenhagen marketed itself as ‘Hopenhagen’) and the rise in public scepticism about both the evidence in support of climate change and the role of humans in causing it has the potential to undo all the advances made over the last decade to raise the public’s level of concern so that they engage in more sustainable lifestyles.

While technological fixes and financial instruments have an important part to play, their effectiveness is usually mediated by the way the public understands, interprets, engages with or responds to such actions. Moreover, these strategies alone will not suffice: changing the public’s social, economic and environmental behaviours and everyday practices is also essential. Already psychology is making a significant contribution to this work – whether it is devising mitigation and adaptation strategies and interventions, gathering of evidence about the potential and actual effectiveness of policies and practical actions, or challenging common or taken for granted ways of thinking about these issues.

This Joint British Academy/British Psychological Society Annual Lecture examines some of the exciting and influential work being undertaken by psychologists. While encouraging individuals to change their attitudes and behaviours is clearly important, we know that climate change is a collective problem requiring collective solutions. Considerable emphasis will be placed in this lecture on the role and importance of social context, collective action and community cooperation. How have people come to lead unsustainable lifestyles through developments of changes in the wider society? How can community initiatives be made more effective? What can we learn from the international trade union movement which is working across the North-South divide to link environmental measures with social justice?

About the speaker
David Uzzell is Professor of Environmental Psychology in the Department of Psychology, University of Surrey. His principal research interests focus on public understandings of climate change, critical psychological approaches to changing consumption and production practices, environmental risk, and identity and the past. He specialises in interdisciplinary research and is one of the co-investigators on ESRC research project RESOLVE (Research on Values, Lifestyles and the Environment), and the EPSRC project REDUCE (Reshaping Energy Demand of Users by information and Communication Technology and Economic Incentives). Other current research on sustainable development, production and consumption is being undertaken on behalf of the EU and FAS (Swedish Council for Working Life and Social Research). He is Past-President of the International Association of People-Environment Studies (IAPS), the British Psychological Society’s representative on the European Federation of Psychologists’ Association Task Force on Environmental Psychology, and Visiting Professor at the University of Umeå.

The lecture was introduced by Dr Graham Powell, and chaired by Professor Annette Karmiloff-Smith FBA.

More about the Joint British Academy / British Psychological Society Lectures

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